It is in India and neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, alone, where Muslim women are oppressed, rest of the Muslim dominated nations give equal status and rights to women. This is how the Muslim minorities feel in this Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. These Muslim minorities also feel that the government schemes do not reach them. "There are welfare schemes relating to education, health, employment and so on but even the Muslim Concentrated Districts (MCDs) remain ignorant about them where it the implementation of these schemes is mandatory, what to say of districts which have sporadic population of minorities," said Aftab Alam, a social activist who is working in one such MCD –Bahraich – in Uttar Pradesh.
The issue cropped up during a consultation meet on Mid Term Appraisal of XI Five year Plan, which was held in the state capital Lucknow, last week. The meeting focused on "listening to the voices from the field" and was organised by the Planning Commission, Government of India with support of UNIFEM, UNICEF, UNFPA, Voluntary Health Association of India and National Alliance of Women. The issues which were covered in the day-long brain storming sessions included minorities, health, women and children.
The presentations emphasised on lack of quality education as far as Muslim population of India is concerned. "The government policy has the provision for 25 percent enrolment of Muslim girls but hardly 5 percent girls are enrolled in government schools," the representatives of minority group pointed out. The group included social activists working for the uplift of Muslims, from different parts of the state. The state of madarsas is more or less the same. "The condition of the madarsas, which get the government aids, has improved a bit as now they teach subjects like computer and English. But such madarsas are very few in numbers. Majority of madarsas are still in pathetic shape and imparting not so relevant education in terms of employment," said Aftab Alam.
Talking of employment, the minority representatives pointed out that a large section of Muslim community comprises craftsmen but the government does not provide them any opportunity to excel and promote their crafts. "On the contrary, capitalists and industrialists are taking over various traditional crafts and arts and the artisans and craftsmen are becoming labourers who are working for these industrialists," said Shaista Amber, a woman social activist and the president of All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board.
The group representing the minorities sounded united when they claimed that a major portion of Muslim population was unaware of the government welfare schemes. Besides, the schemes, which the minorities knew of, were hardly reaching the beneficiaries.
"The overall objective of the whole exercise was to obtain communities' perspective towards various programmes and schemes and their effectiveness," said Manju Agarwal, the founder director of Path – the Lucknow based organisation, who was facilitating this consultation. Such consultations are being conducted at state and regional level (clusters of five to six states) to assess the communities’ participation in the central government programmes. "The exercise would also assess the level of knowledge of the community on various components of the national level schemes designed for them," said Manju Agarwal.
The group of minorities gave a few recommendations as well:
- Include minority representatives in the policy making.
- Propagate the government schemes through madarsas.
- Scholarships should go directly to the account of the students so that there is no mediator to exploit the students.
- Sachchar Committee report should be given the status of a legal document so that it has a binding on governments for the implement of its recommendations.
- Special protection/shelter homes for single women who become homeless after their talaq (divorce), or who after their husbands’ death or due to jahez (dowry) are thrown out of their in-laws houses.
(The author is a senior journalist and a Fellow of Citizen News Service (CNS) Writers’ Bureau. Website: www.citizen-news.org )